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Neighbors, community leaders look for solutions to stop explosions at Newport scrap metal yard

Explosive issue stretches beyond NKY
Posted at 2:29 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 20:16:47-04

NEWPORT, Ky. — Loud explosions caused by shredding at a local scrap metal plant have rocked a Newport neighborhood for years, but now the issue is getting more attention.

WCPO has reported on explosions at River Metals Recycling before, which happen when a car that's shredded has gasoline or a propane tank left in it. The combustion shakes up nearby homes on Licking Pike, and some residents have said they hear up to three explosions a day.

MORE: Newport residents fighting back against explosive neighbor

But it’s not just an issue in Northern Kentucky. Tony Ray, who lives in Louisville’s Clifton Heights neighborhood near another RMR location, described similar explosions near his home as “a small earthquake” that shake his windows.

“They're pretty violent at times. They're very concerning. And again, when it's to your home, your biggest asset, it's very unsettling,” he said.

Kaye Thompson, who also lives in Clifton Heights, worries about how the explosions impact her home’s foundation.

“I've observed some cracks on the walls; we have plaster walls,” she said.

Ray, Thompson and neighbor Dave Vislisel are leading the charge in Louisville to get the explosions to stop.

“It’s been going on since I think about 2013, 2014, 2015, since River Metals settled in here," said Vislisel. "Kaye and I have met a couple of times with the manager of the plant and people who came down from Cincinnati to say, 'We're doing everything we can.'"

That includes RMR building a wall to separate the shredder and contain the sound.

The company also submitted a “combustion incident reduction plan” to the city of Louisville in 2017. In that plan, RMR committed to increased employee training, better inspections and more education for its scrap suppliers. In their report, RMR also noted it would be unrealistic to think all explosions could be eliminated.

Neighbors said the effort has not solved the problem.

“It's obvious they're not following their processes,” Ray said. “The 2017 report said they were going to do these things, A, B and C. Obviously, they have not done it.”

Kentucky State Representative Rachel Roberts toured RMR’s Newport facility for Earth Day. She described the area as “a place where suburban ideals and urban realities butt heads." That creates a challenging problem, she said.

“It's a business that's acting in good faith in their purview, that's meeting all of its obligations with the EPA, with OSHA, paying their taxes, all of those things,” Roberts said. “So there's no real mechanism right now to penalize them for operating their business within the parameters that they're allowed to operate their business in.”

When she toured the facility Thursday, she told WCPO that RMR does “vastly important” recycling work in the community, adding that the company is one of the largest contributors to local payroll taxes and employs about 50 people.

RMR's parent company, Nucor, just announced a major expansion in Gallatin County, thanks to a multi-million-dollar state tax break, bringing more jobs to Northern Kentucky.

MORE: Gallatin Co. steel plant's expansion will mean more than just new jobs for the region

“We're all, in good faith, working to find solutions to help us keep a major employer in our district... and make sure the quality of life people except when they move to Newport… is maintained,” Roberts said.

There are a number of solutions to look into, and Roberts suggested a range of options from tax incentives for affected residents to issuing fines for violations if applicable.

“So yes, there are solutions,” she said. “Are any of them overnight solutions? No. These are complicated problems that have been going on for years.”

"So the solution has to be a negotiation between all of the invested parties. And from everyone I talked to, everyone is really invested in finding a solution here," she continued.

Both those affected -- whether near or far -- want more than a good-faith effort. They want change.

“Number one, it would just be to have the explosions stop,” Ray said. “If they can't stop them, maybe they should move.”

In a statement last month, RMR General Manager Neal Coulardot told WCPO, "In the recycling of metals there can be occasional combustion events. River Metals has a formal plan to keep these at a minimum. These events do not cause safety or environmental harm."